Reasons For Measles High-Contagiousness Pinpointed
November 5, 2011

Reasons For Measles High-Contagiousness Pinpointed

An international team of researchers say that they have discovered how and why the measles virus spreads so quickly -- respiratory secretions linked to a key receptor located in the trachea.

In a Friday press release, officials with INSERM (Institut national de la santé et de la recherche médicale), who was involved with the work, report that this receptor, known as nectine-4, "allows the virus to spread through the air rapidly from one organism to another."

The virus that causes measles is reportedly one of the most contagious human pathogens among those who have not been properly vaccinated. INSERM says that the disease infects over 10 million children each year, and is responsible for 120,000 global deaths annually.

"The measles virus“¦ can cause serious, sometimes fatal, complications," INSERM said in their media release. "It is mainly transmitted when an infected person coughs or sneezes, sending droplets through the air to another individual."

The discovery of nectine-4's role in the transmission of the virus "explains why this virus spreads so quickly," they added. "Viruses generally use cell receptors to initiate and spread the infection throughout the organism. This is the case of the measles virus, which infects the immune cells in the lungs to enter and spread through the body."

The study, which was detailed in a letter dated November 2 and published in the journal Nature, shows for the first time how the measles pathogen uses this specific receptor -- which the researcher describe as "'ideally' suited to airborne contagion," to exit its host and enter the air.

In a separate press release, the Institut national de recherche scientifique (INRS), a Canadian graduate and postgraduate research and training university, notes that the discovery could also impact the future of cancer treatment.

"Nectin-4 is a biomarker for certain types of cancer, such as breast, ovarian, and lung cancers," INRS officials wrote. "Clinical trials are currently under way using a modified measles virus. Because measles virus actively targets nectin-4, measles-based cancer therapy may be more successful in patients whose cancers express nectin-4. Such therapy could be less toxic than chemotherapy or radiation."


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